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A Healthier School Lunch

Top 10 Tips for Getting Kids to Eat Healthier

by Mary Ann Cavallaro, RN

At a time of many new initiatives being launched in schools across the nation to reduce the incidence of type II, non-insulin dependant diabetes and obesity in our children, best strategies are being discussed. Aside from purging schools of soda machines and junk foods, there is a lot that parents themselves can do. One health food store decided to take the initiative and surveyed its customers for advice. According to Bill Moran, Customer Service Representative at Whole Foods Center in Princeton, he personally feels the best solution to this epidemic is to have no school lunch program at all. "Everyone wants their child to be healthy, and it is up to the parent to pack a lunch that is appealing and healthy to your child", he said.

Mr. Moran recounts how he planned his own daughter's healthy school lunches. The secret: his daughter planned with him "You have to have a plan," Mr. Moran advises. "Ideally, you plan a week ahead, he said, and if that is not possible, plan even a day ahead." Planning together with your child can also be a way to strengthen family relationships. Introducing better foods into your child's diet is not that difficult. Left-overs are good to pack in a lunch.

Another concern Mr. Moran had was that there is a disconnection between what we eat and how it is grown or produced. "A garden should be a course at school," he said. Mr. Moran believes if children grow fruits and vegetable plants, they'll be more inclined to eat them.

Interested in improving their customers' health, The Whole Earth Center actually collected tips from their customers on ways they have been able to get better foods into their children's diets. Below are the top 10 tips offered by customers to get children to eat healthier.

Top 10 Customer Tips for Getting Children to Eat Healthier:

  1. Get your kids to make a list of what they like to eat.
  2. Don't stereotype meals. Some kids love soup or baked beans for breakfast. If they like it, they'll eat it any time of day.
  3. Drop foods when enthusiasm wanes or tastes change. Remember that kids are exploring a universe of cuisine.
  4. As a family, talk about the origins of food and cuisine. Expand your child's horizons- and your own-by exploring unfamiliar ethnic cuisines.
  5. Be a parent who leads by example with strength. Stop the whimpering.
  6. Enjoy food yourself! By letting go and just letting ourselves enjoy good foods we are modeling a healthy relationship to healthy food.
  7. Stick with whole foods as much as possible. Be consistent in insisting on healthy choices. Encourage, but don't lecture. (What are whole foods? This is a common question. Whole foods are foods that have not been processed. They are purchased as fresh as possible. Fresh whole fruits, vegetables or grains are examples of whole foods. An apple is still one of the most economical, nutritional and environmentally friendly snacks a child can have).
  8. Get your kids to help pack their lunch.
  9. Pay attention to children's marketing. If shopping with small children, note if sweeter cereals and snacks are closer to their shorter eye level and reach." (You may want to avoid these aisles.)
  10. Plan lunches together with your child - ideally a week ahead. If that is not possible, even a day ahead is good.

The Internet is a source for marketing to children. Note what sites they are reaching. On sites like neopets.com, brands are embedded into the pet games. These are challenging times for healthy eating. "The culture says it is OK to not sit down and eat together,"reflects Mr. Moran. "Current wide-spread obesity is not so much a food problem (as it is) how we approach what we eat." If we return to eating healthy meals together and approach eating consciously, eating can lead to healthier food choices and to unconscious fun.

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1999-2000; updates: 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 Women's Heart Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use prohibited. The information contained in this Women's Heart Foundation (WHF) Web site is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment, and WHF recommends consultation with your doctor or health care professional.